Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. August 2004

4.9. Transkulturelle Stereotype in den Kunst- und Literaturwerken
HerausgeberIn | Editor | Éditeur: Tamara Fessenko (Tambov/Russland)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

The metonymic way of an attributive description of the subject: cultural aspect (Tambov, Russia)


As is well-known, a language is the cultural environment of its native speakers. No language can be analyzed or learned without entering into the cultural traditions of its speakers. For a linguist, it is very important to produce a complete description of these cultural traditions to underpin his ideas. Thus any phenomenon appearing in a language should be studied and described in close connection with its cultural usage and its cultural environment. Metonymy is an important way of expressing ideas, a cognitive process, consisting in the transference of meaning based on associations. A metonymic description of a subject is an essential part of any language therefore metonymic thinking can be considered as an element of the cultural identity of a person.

Traditionally, metonymy was understood as a figure of speech used in rhetoric, or as a way of building a polysemic structure. The scholars also defined it as the relationship of a different nature between the objects and the phenomena of the real world (e.g. cause and result, part and whole). From the cognitive point of view, metonymic reconsideration is based on the cognitive processes of concept association that reflects the co-appearance frequency of objects of reality fixed by concepts. This paper investigates the concept of metonymy in the context of transcultural problems as a way of describing and characterizing the subject attributively; it aims at a reconsideration of the canonical classification of types of English metonymy (as it exists in the language and culture of the English-speaking countries and appears in the mental and cultural systems of a native speaker) on the basis of the degree of associativeness with the subject. By subject we understand the agent of an action or the experiencer of a state described or implied in the sentence. We consider it possible to distinguish the following types of the metonymic attributive description of the subject:


1) Direct, or primary, metonymy - the direct transference of the meaning to the object on the basis of association with the subject itself. For example:

a) "We could hear the cheery clatter of our knives, the laughing voices..." [J.K. Jerome]

In this case, the participle "laughing" that characterizes the subject expressed in this sentence by the pronoun "we" is used with the noun "voices", although no voice can laugh by itself, it is the property of a human being. The description is transferred from the subject itself to its part, so it is obvious that this sentence is an example of primary metonymy.

b) "Calm yourself, Hastings. Do not put on that air of injured dignity." [A. Christie]

In the sentence under discussion, the participle "injured" is similarly used with the abstract noun "dignity", although it characterizes the subject (Hastings): morally injured is the subject itself, but in the sentence "injured" describes the word "dignity". Obviously, here we can see the direct transference of the meaning on the basis of association with the subject.

An interesting example of primary metonymy is its usage in such a cultural phenomenon as wishes. By saying to each other "Happy New Year!" or "Merry Christmas!", people in reality explicate the thought "I wish you to be happy in the new year" or "I wish you to be merry on Christmas". The usage of direct metonymy is quite obvious in cases like these.

2) Indirect, or secondary, metonymy - the double transference of the meaning to another object on the basis of association with the manner of action of the subject mediated by the subject itself. For example:

a ) "Near them was the parking space, as yet a modest yard..." [F.S. Fitzgerald]

In this sentence, the transference of the meaning is mediated because "modest yard" is the yard made modestly by a man (i.e. subject), but not necessarily by a modest man. Thus we observe the transference of the meaning from the manner of action of the subject (made modestly) to the result, i.e. the object (yard), where the subject (a man) is the link mediating this transference.

b) "Poirot waved an impatient hand." [A. Christie]

Here is the analogous transference of the meaning from the manner of action of the subject (waved impatiently) to the object (hand), mediated by the subject (Poirot), because it is not the hand that is impatient, but Poirot himself waves it impatiently.

3) Partial metonymy - the use of an attribute which acquires a certain degree of associativeness with the subject. For example:

"Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?" [W. Blake]

In this fragment, the usage of metonymy can be observed in the nouns "hand" and "eye". The attribute "immortal" characterizing the subject of this transference (obviously "God") does not bear in itself the pronounced metonymic complexion, but has only a shade of the associative transference. As a matter of fact, the attribute "immortal" only adds to nominative metonymy in the words "hand" and "eye", and therefore cannot by itself be regarded as complete and self-sufficient metonymy.

One and the same attribute can be used in various contexts and, consequently, bear different degrees of associativeness, i.e. represent different types of metonymy.

a ) "We conjured up the picture of ourselves inside, tired and a little hungry; ... our dear old boat, so snug and warm and cheerful." [J.K. Jerome]

b ) "Our meal was hardly a cheerful one." [A. Christie]

The implied meaning of the first sentence is "we were so cheerful when we were in 'our dear old boat'"; the transference of the attributive description from the subject (we) to the object (boat) is direct, consequently the attribute "cheerful" in this case is the example of direct, or primary, metonymy. In the second sentence, it is implied that "we didn't have our meal cheerfully". The transference of the meaning from the manner of action of the subject (didn't have cheerfully) to the different object (meal) is mediated by the subject (we), i.e. the usage of the attribute in the latter case is the example of indirect, or secondary, metonymy.

This distinction is based on the principle of temporality: if the subject possesses a certain characteristic for a relatively long period of time, it is a case of direct (primary) metonymy (sentence "a"); if this period is relatively short, it is indirect (secondary) metonymy (sentence "b"). The cognition process is very complicated and there may be some difficult cases where such distinction is not so clear, but still it can be made.

From the cognitive point of view, metonymy represents one of the basic characteristics of mentality which is very complicated. Therefore this classification of the types of the attributive metonymic description is incomplete, and the direction of this research is thought to be quite perspective.

© Alexey A. Lukyanov (Tambov, Russia)


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4.9. Transkulturelle Stereotype in den Kunst- und Literaturwerken

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Alexey A. Lukyanov (Tambov, Russia): The metonymic way of an attributive description of the subject: cultural aspect. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003. WWW:

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